There are many things about Edge of Darkness that I don't understand, and none of them have to do with the straightforward revenge/conspiracy plot. It's an adaptation of a much-celebrated BBC series and is directed by the same man, Martin Campbell. Interesting things needed to be cut and reworked for the shortened Americanization, so I don't get why he wouldn't change almost everything and just make a new movie, rather than something that will forever live in its predecessor's shadow. Plus, it's the first film role for Mel Gibson in six or seven years. Someone shine some light out here, on the edge of...never mind. It's a decent flick. Read on.
The first bit of knowledge we can infer about Detective Thomas Craven (Gibson) is that he's smart enough to successfully convert old home movies to DVD, in particular ones of his recently estranged daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic). Their relationship is strong, but her new job has kept contact between them minimal. So when she visits him at the beginning of the film, it's portrayed as such, but something seems off about Emma. Before we can find out what that is, her insides are shifted by a shotgun blast and she dies beneath her father's unbelieving eyes. It's a shocking moment despite its known eventuality, and it's a shame that it's immediately preceded by the masked gunman shouting, "Craven!" The first bit of knowledge we infer about the gunman is that he's extremely obvious. (Initially, Thomas is thought to be the intended victim, but I still argue one could think that without the catcalling.) You know what they say, if you see somebody yell, "Craven!" in Act I, you better hear somebody yell, "Craven!" in Act III.
Craven is too close to the case, so he's unable to handle anything officially. But Mel Gibson cops are the kind of cops that become criminals in the name of personal justice. It just so happens Emma, an activist, has stumbled upon the kind of secret whose existence makes people either rich or dead. The kind of secret whose keepers (in this case, the privatized company Northmoor) send out "consultants" to solve their problems, in this case Jedburgh (Ray Winstone). Jedburgh like to appear out of thin air, quiet as a church mouse. He intends to kill Craven, but the two talk, and Jedburgh feels for Craven as a father who's lost a child.
I'm not going to spell out the evil-doers' evil-doings, but suffice to say it's a matter of national importance. Craven learns of Northmoor's existence from Emma's hyper-paranoid boyfriend, David (Shawn Roberts). His efforts lead him to confrontations with Northmoor's C.E.O. Jack Bennett (Danny Huston), Senator Jim Pine (Damien Young), lawyers, cops, other activists, etc. Once you add in Craven's friendship with former partner Bill Whitehouse (Jay O. Sanders), you have all the ingredients for a generic thriller romp. And that's almost exactly what you get, with the exception of a few key details.
Edge of Darkness is entirely Mel Gibson's movie. It ebbs and flows with the amount of emotion that's wreaked across his weathered face at any given time. It's a well-paced film with an interesting conspiratorial plot, but I enjoyed watching the quiet moments more; the ones where Gibson's performance is so restrained it gave me a headache. The death of a daughter can't be easy for anyone, and I'm glad we get this kind of portrayal rather than Sean Penn's Indelible Hulk shot from Mystic River. Shaky ground is covered as Craven starts hallucinating his daughter as she was in the home videos, though this is actually addressed, rather than being a clichéd character action.
Honestly, the film could have been a Dinner With Andre feature with just Craven and Jedburgh talking and I would have given it at least the same score. Jedburgh is altogether the most interesting character, as his motives are flippant and unlike most shady characters in cinema. Jay O. Sanders is always enjoyable, and we could have seen more of him. The rest of the cast is merely adequate. There's nothing too hammy, except for maybe boyfriend David, but nobody comes close to Gibson or Winstone's killer chops. I do recall cringing a few times when Huston and his cronies were on screen, but it's probably because the bad guys are moronic caricatures. Luckily, the story isn't made or broken by any particular character or evil company; it's interesting all the same.
Also serving the story is director Martin Campbell's mastery of subtlely bombastic filmmaking. There's quite a bit of tense action here (though not enough, considering the weight of the events involved), and it's done without the flash of Campbell's Bond and Zorro movies, which keeps everything moody and vaguely realistic. The understated score also sets the mood throughout. It's a laughless movie, to say the least. I suppose there are heartwarming moments at the beginning and end, but the middle is pure negativity. I'm not sure why Gibson outed himself for it instead of something with a few one-liners, considering his directorial efforts and his public life. Maybe there were whoopee cushions on the set.
I can't say I'll ever watch it again, but Edge of Darkness was no waste of time. It's hard to imagine the kind of person who would just love it, but there's more than enough to put it ahead of whatever horror remakes and bullshit sequels are being released. Maybe we'll see Mel again soon. Maybe he and Danny Glover will resurrect the Grumpy Old Men franchise. One can only hope against.
I'll keep this as brief as the amount of special features. There's a trailer, and a few minutes worth of appropriately deleted scenes. That's all. We don't get to hear Campbell talk at all about his ludicrous project choice. Oh well. Save it for cable. And make sure your daughter isn't an activist.